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Gower-Strand rugby match occupies the Varsity void

By Ben Wilson


After much uncertainty and hearsay surrounding this year’s London Varsity (or the possible absence of one), it seems that supporters of the notorious grudge match have taken matters into their own hands to ensure its survival.


Operating under the pseudonym ‘Burlington Bertie,’ a University College London alumnus has organised a clash between UCL’s and our very own King’s First XVs, which is set to take place at Richmond Rugby Club – a return to the traditional playing ground of the mud and sweat-stained prodigal son that is the London Varsity.


Dubbed ‘The Gower-Strand Occupation,’ this grassroots resistance of Varsity extinction is scheduled for Friday 22nd March and, according to its bespoke Facebook page, promises ‘funsies, men in small shorts and only one winner: university rugby.’


In a statement released to Roar! Bertie said “My basic motivation is that I wanted to see the match. I knew people were disappointed there was no organised stadium match for the rugby, so it seemed obvious to organise this. Furthermore, Varsity was one of my key experiences while at university and it would be a shame to see others deprived of this.”


He went on to say “I think rugby, often unfairly, can have a bad reputation and I want to showcase just how vibrant and vital a part of university life it is. I mainly want everyone to have a great time to be honest.”


Bertie’s reflections upon the much-maligned reputation of rugby hold particular significance for the coming together of these two teams. After a move to the Twickenham Stoop ground, 2012’s game quickly fell into disrepute due to pitch invasions, as well as violent scenes which resulted in charges of assault being brought against one King’s alumnus and a night of captivity in a police cell for the KCL mascot Reggie the Lion.


Following these controversies KCLSU stated on its website that “After a period of consultation between UCLU and KCLSU it is with regret that the decision has been made not to go ahead with the traditional rugby matches between UCL and KCL under the banner of ‘The London Varsity’ as a result of incidents and behaviour at the 2012 event”, although the statement did go on to claim “Both unions are working together to offer an alternative format for The London Varsity 2013. There will be further information in regards to this in due course.”


However, this year’s ‘Gower-Strand Occupation,’ while indeed inhabiting this alternative format mentioned by KCLSU, is unaffiliated with either of the universities’ students’ unions.  As part of his statement, Bertie included a personal message to KCLSU, which read “As to whether KCLSU is Varsity-loathing, I cannot say. However, I would encourage KCLSU and UCLU to help participate in making this a success. The students clearly want it, it’s great for the universities – I’d welcome their support, particularly with advertising this event.”


The players will be subject to the rules of the Rugby Football Union and the crowd will be met with “a large security presence” according to Bertie. Neither students’ union has made public comment on the event.


ULU Vice President Daniel Cooper has joined the event on Facebook. When asked for a statement, he said “Trying to get my head around it atm!”


KCLSU Environment and Ethics representative Anthony Shaw commented, “I would hope to see that all King’s students get behind this event. Varsity was a great day, one of the best of my first year and I would hate to see it go. While I admit there was some crowd trouble, it was not as extreme as the powers that be would have it. If anything, blame should be levied at the organisers who failed to understand the rivalry between King’s and UCL and therefore, made inadequate preparations. Most people on that day were very well behaved and enjoyed the atmosphere and the show and I’m proud to see students taking this tradition into their own hands and making sure it stays alive. Let’s pray for a King’s win.”


NUS Delegate Liam Jackson said, “The Varsity is an event that wins the heart of the whole student population. It’s the one time people wear their respective colours and splash on paint to represent whether their veins flow blue or red. You look around at Varsity; see coursemates, friends from halls and family of the players involved. It represents a real togetherness not bound by those solely from a sporting nature. The event last year overshadowed the effort put in by the players and everyone else to organise the game. This most certainly should not have resulted in an outright cancellation. The games are always hard fought and fierce from both the men’s and women’s teams, giving everyone both watching and taking part a real sense of pride, honour and identity, by far the event of the year. The utmost respect goes to Burlington Bertie and co. as well as those I know on the Strand side selflessly helping carry on the tradition that dates back over two centuries. People need to continue buying tickets en masse, not to watch a mere rugby game, but to help continue the legacy and help finance a celebrated event which needs more backing than ever with the loss of any solid union input.”


Kick-off is at 7.30pm on Friday 22nd March and tickets are £7 for the early birds, while standard and family seating tickets are being sold for the slightly higher price of £10. Let’s hope that players and fans alike have the courage and pride of Reggie the Lion in their hearts, and unlike Jeremy Bentham don’t lose their heads. And so it begins…


If you want to congratulate Berlington Bertie on putting together this event, have any queries or simply want to have some tweet-based discussion, he can be reached at @gossipbert


The event page is here



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